Joe Corrie

THE GAIST HOOSE

WE were mair superstitious lang syne than we are noo, an, speakin' for myself', I did believe in ghosts altho it haed never been my misfortune to see yin. Man, I've seen us sittin roon' oor fire o a winter nicht when we were growin lads an lassies listenin to my mither tellin' stories aboot ghosts, an every yin o them true, mind ye, till oor hair was standin on end. I'm surprised wi the number o deaths arid disasters, an a' forewarned that teuk place in my Mither's young day that there was onybody left in Gallawa' ava, for I'm shuir that every gaist in Scotland haed taen up its abode within sicht o Cairnsmore. He was a brave young lad that went oot on a dark winter nicht wi his chest oot an whistlin "Scots Wha Hae."

An I believed in the supernatural till efter I was mairried. I did that. Which minds me o Sam McMorran wha used to leive by himsel alang at Bargrennan. Sam was a young man like me, wha worked on the roads at that time, wha haed lost his auld mither, but was bidin' on in the hoose where he haed been born until sic times as he could get somebody to mairy him. It was only yince a week I saw him, when he cam into the toon on the Setterday nicht on his auld bone-shaker. An efter the passin o his mither I began to see a gradual change in him for the worse. He began to leuk haggard, couldna tak his drink as he used to, got gey nesty at the least provocation, an used to jump aboot three feet in the air at the least fricht.

Sae yin nicht I says to him, "What's been happenin' to ye, Sam, that, you're no leukin like your auld sel ?" He pou'd me into a close sae that he could tell me his secret. "Tam," says he, wi great concern, "my hoose is haunted, an I'm no gettin' a wink o sleep, for nae suiner dis the auld clock strike the 'oor o twelve than oot it comes an terrifies the fair life oot o me" "Oot what comes ?" says I. "Man, I dinna ken what it is. I've never seen oucht but it mak's plenty o noise." "What kind o noise ?" says I. "It's kinna like a corncraik, but where it is in the hoose I canna mak oot, an I'm ower feart to get oot o my bed to investigate."

It was quite true that his auld mither haed a voice a wee bit like a corncraik, but she was sic a guid auld sowel that I'm shuir she didna want to torment her only son to the borders o distraction. Hooever, I haed to tak his wird for it, an feelin a bit bauld wi twa drams in me, I said I'd gang oot wi him on my bike the next Setterday nicht an sit up wi him to see if we couldna lay that gaist thigither. "Man, Tam," says he, "you're a hero, an I'll mak shuir that we'll no gang thirsty."

I telt Maggie aboot it on the Sunday, but she didna want me to gae, me bein sae praecious to her, ye see-as we a' are the first year o mairried life. But by the time Setterday cam she was prood o me-provin' mysel sic a hero. Aye, but as I set aff for the toon on my auld bike I didna feel as big a hero as she thocht I was. But I couldna gae back on my wird, an Sam haed promised that we wadna gae thirsty.

Sae I met Sam, an he sheuk my hand gratefully. An when we'd haed oor dram, wi yin or twa abuin the uisual. I was juist hopin' that I'd get the opportunity to meet the gaist in mortal combat, prayin' that it wad be a man an no a wumman sae that I wadna hae ony tender feelin's in the maiter. But it's a lang road to Bargrennan, an it was gey dark, an cauld, an the waters o Cree leuked queer when the muin cam oot, an soonded queer when the wind blew frae that airt. An when I stepped into Sam's hoose, at his heels, I wisna the brave man I was in the toon. I waited in the wee lobby till he haed put a tremblin licht to the lamp, which juist haed yin wick an was very badly trimmed ; in fact he wad hae been as weel wi a glow-worm. But he knocked a poker into the fire an the flame frae the peat spurted up the chimley. "What'll we hae first, Tam?" says he, "a cup o tea or a wee dram ?" "A dram," says I, withoot mentionin' the wee.

In thae days porter was mair common than it is noo. Ye could buy it in big bottles, but whiles haed a bother gettin' the corks oot for they were knocked doon wi hammers, I think. But in went the corkscrew in yin, an oot cam the cork wi a minimum o exertion. I saw that he haed hauf a dizzen o thae big bottles in a corner near the fire, which recouperated my courage a bit. Weel, we finished that bottle, an Sam made a cup o tea. Then we sat doon at the fire an yattered awa aboot this an that, an afore we kent where we were it was a quarter to twelve.

When Sam saw the time he hurried to the corner an drew anither cork, but haed to leave me to fill the porter into the glesses for he was ower shaky. At three meenits to twelve we put oor glesses back on the table, an I buttoned up my jaiket. The fire haed gane doon a guid bit by this time, accordin' to plan, o course, an Sam turned doon the licht, also accordin' to plan. " Noo," says he, wi chatterin' teeth, "we'll need to sit awfu quait."

We did, for quite a lang while, then the noise started. It didna soond like a corncraik to me, an seemed to come frae the ither side o the waa at the back o the grandfaither clock. Sae, slippin' aff my buits very quietly, I thocht I'd cross ower an put my lug to the waa. By noo the fire was nearly oot, an I haed to rely on my memory an the tick-tick o the clock. By this time the craikin' haed stopped, sae I turned roon' to leuk at Sam, but it was ower dark to see him. Then the craikin' started again, an, forgettin that I haed turned roon', I went forward thinkin I was gaun to the clock but I walked richt into Sam, which made him gie a howl an stagger back, knockin' doon the leukin-gless that was on the mantelshelf, which fell on the fender wi a tremendous crash. Then he drew oot an got me richt on the stamack, knockin' the wind frae me. I was juist aboot to draw oot, tae, when there was an explosion, then anither yin, then anither yin, for a' the warld, sae it seemed then, like blastin' in the quarry, an the next thing I felt was bein hauf-drooned. The same thing must hae happened to Sam, for he shouted oot, "Help! Help!" Then he tried to get to the door to get oot, but knocked me against the table, an the table went ower an me on the tap o it, comin doon an my kidneys which wisna helped when Sam crawled ower the tap o me, scrapin' my broo wi his tacketty buits, which, o coorse, he should hae taen aff. Sae I was lyin there, stunned, helpless, an in mortal terrification, when I heard Sam shoutin', "This wey, Tam, this wey. I've gotten the door open." An leukin ower my broo I could see the muin throu the door. It teuk me hauf a minute to get mysel untangled frae the legs o the table, then I crawled on my hands an knees. I was juist at the door when there was anither explosion which made me get up on my feet quick eneuch, I can tell ye.

"I'm drookit to the skin," said Sam, wipin' his face wi a muckle hankie. It haed got him full on the face, but I felt it on my heid an doon the back o my neck. "What's happened?" says I. "Guidness kens," says he, "but we're lucky to escape wi oor lives." I was standin first on yin fit then the ither, far I haed nae buits on, an it was dashed cauld, an I was wonderin' hoo lang I'd hae to mark time, for it was a lang while to the daylicht. Then Sam said "Tam, this stuff haes the taste o porter." An that's juist what it was. The heat o the hoose haed affected the bottles, sendin' the corks to the ceilin' wi a bang.

Sae wi the mystery o the explosions solved we went back into the hoose, put a licht to the lamp again, an gae the fire a poke. Then Sam siched wi relief. "Ony gaist that can survive a fricht like that, Tam," says he, "haes ower brave a hert to be hidden alow a white sark." I thocht the same. There was yin bottle o porter left hale an he'rty, an some mair in the bottles that haed exploded, sae we perished the lot. Then I got on my bike an made for hame.

Sam wisna bothered wi the gaist efter that, but mibbie that was because he teuk the notion on the Sunday to gie the auld grenfaither clock a drap o oil.